“C.S.N.E,” a song by 22-year-old Mylo Mu, opens with kaleidoscopic images and a shirt that reads ‘Free Tupac.’ Heavy bass quickly accompanies the rapper, the visuals oscillating between psychedelic designs, sporadic Angela Davis audio clips seeming to date back from 1972, and the back of Mylo Mu’s baby pink shirt. Then, thirty seconds in, Mu smiles shyly at the camera before rapping, “walk outside, and I don’t know what the fuck this shit is.”
The shot cuts to a close-up, the frame is filled by his face and a wide, confident smile. This is what Black artistry looks like in 2017.
Despite the political bleakness that has so far accompanied this year, Black art and culture have always found ways to creatively reflect the adversities of the time while highlighting the beauty that exists within the struggle. And Mylo Mu, a Cal alumnus and rapper now based in the East Bay, is a perfect example of that, with his artistic vision that brings together hip-hop, jazz, and afro-psychedelic elements in both his sound and his visuals.
The intersection of these elements, Mylo Mu shared in an interview with The B-Side, ultimately helps him in understanding his own Blackness. His use of experimental, ambient, and sometimes funky, instrumentals layered under his deep rap vocals — a style evidenced by his 2016 EP, Free Radical— also makes perfect sense alongside his edgy and raw photography series, “Nood Book.” His intentionally imperfect photography compliments his hard-hitting bars and abstract, atmospheric beats to convey his intentions of “healing and celebrating identities commonly silenced.”
“A lot of my work is visually based,” he explained. “Photography and visuals is another space where I can explicate my image.”
And the image Mu communicates through his art is indeed radical — but can also somewhat ironically be linked to his connection to mainstream figures in Black art and culture. Names like Jean Michel Basquiat, Madlib, John Coltrane, and Pharrell Williams were just a few of his many sources of inspiration. For him, Black artistry “is sort of like a ‘cultural DNA.’ They’re my ancestors even if I’m not connected by blood. I feel like Basquiat, I feel like Tupac,” he expressed firmly.
In regards to negative stereotypes and the impact they have on Black art and its respective communities, he expressed that “it all comes back to the Black body. And how America understands the values of them.” The liberation of Black Americans is weaved into Mu’s work because he feels it should be addressed by all Black artistic visionaries.
All too often people are quick to associate rap and hip-hop with descriptives like “hood” or “ghetto” without realizing the divide it creates between Black art and Black humanity. The stigma associated with rap culture can be discouraging to young artists who simply wish to express themselves creatively through rhythm and poetry. Mylo Mu’s vision attempts to go against these stereotypes, as the artist expressed that “foundationally, it’s all about inferiority. And that’s what we’re combatting.”
“We know what’s going on,” Mylo Mu said. “As Black artists, we see what’s happening, so I feel that if you don’t call that out and speak about it you’re part of the problem.”
And while the problem and process of Black liberation Mylo Mu discusses will not be easily solved, his insistence on freedom and clarity in all forms of artistic expression puts us one SoundCloud link closer to the solution.
20-year-old Elujay is another Oakland rapper who’s working to create honest, soulful music that reflects the vibrant personality of the Bay. Elujay has been in an on-and-off relationship with music and music production for six years now. He grew up around music and had always expressed an interest in poetry, so rapping seemed like the next natural step. Although currently living in L.A., he spent the majority of his youth in Oakland — and many of his powerful lyrics are based on his own experiences as a young Black man on the East Bay.
“The most important thing people should know about me is that I want to be a good example for young musicians coming out of Oakland,” Elujay remarked in an interview with The B-Side. “I want to give back more than I’ve taken.”
With a truthful and heartwarming track like “Soul Food” on his debut release, Jentrify, late last year, it’s clear that Elujay is delivering on his promise of giving back to the Oakland community. The song addresses the social issues of the current generation head on without any sugar coating.
“‘Soul Food’ was actually written around the time I got falsely accused by an officer,” Elujay recounted, explaining his process in writing the song. “The police ended up tackling me to the ground, putting me in handcuffs, and calling me a n*gger.”
These instances of police brutality in America are more than just news stories you hear every so often — rather, it’s a reality for most Black people in America today. Elujay’s ability to take a traumatizing experience and transform it into a beautifully vivid — even joyful — song is what makes him an embodiment of Black artistry in 2017. For Elujay, Black artists are responsible for shaping the outlook of their community, the rapper expressing that many are “misled by the system, the environment, and the individuals they surround themselves with. That’s why it’s important for Black artists to have an influence on the youth.”
“We have a responsibility to our community,” he concluded.
Elujay’s insistence upon creating a positive image for Black youth, his music’s unabashed joy, and Jentrify’s overwhelming success — evidenced by his recent appearances in platforms like Noisey and MTV — show exactly what the Black artist narrative looks like in the Bay. And it’s a perfect rendition of the socially conscious, thoughtful rendition of what Black artistry looks like in 2017.
Self-expression through hip-hop is — and has always been — a reflection of the times, whether it be Elujay’s vibrant, optimistic songs or Mu’s experimental and individualistic work. Elujay and Mu are both one-of-a-kind artistic visionaries contributing to Black art and its perception in surrounding communities.
This is what Black artistry looks like in 2017. Isn’t it stunning?
Written by Shelby Mayes